The detention of Taiwanese actor Kai Ko (柯震東) in Beijing over alleged drug use filled the newspapers for the first few days after the news broke. However, some important questions have arisen from the process of events.
On Aug. 18, official Chinese media reported that Ko was arrested on Aug. 14. Yet prior to that report, news of Ko’s detention remained an unverified rumor and no one knew where Ko was or how he was being treated.
In civilized countries, suspects and people charged with criminal offenses are given human rights guarantees regardless of how conclusive the evidence against them is. They are allowed to pick their own lawyer, they are given a fair and just trial, their physical safety is guaranteed, a court arraignment must be held within 24 hours after the arrest, there can be no unnecessary detention, families are informed with 24 hours and so on.
Of course, there can be no legal back doors such as “administrative detention” that fall outside of due legal procedure. What happened in Ko’s case — he disappeared after his detention and had no choice but to wait for the powers-that-be to show mercy by announcing the detention — is a great threat to human rights.
Before the government signed the Cross-Strait Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement with China in 2012 and before the negotiations on an exchange of liaison offices with China last year, civic organizations demanded that a mechanism for guaranteeing personal freedom be included in the talks. They also demanded that such a mechanism should include guarantees that if anyone from Taiwan or China had their personal freedom restricted by the other side, that party should inform the family of the detained and a representative of the other nation’s liaison office within 24 hours, allow family members and official representatives visitation rights and offer the services of a lawyer.
Unfortunately, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is placing cross-strait policy ahead of the protection of the rights of Republic of China (ROC) citizens. No human rights mechanism has been set up and all that exists is a piece of paper in the form of a so-called “consensus” attachment that meets China’s demands and the Agreement on Jointly Cracking Down on Crime and Mutual Legal Assistance Across the Strait, which is not legally binding.
When the Cross-Strait Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement was signed, the text excluded any mention of the protection of personal freedoms, and only included this “consensus” attachment.
Although such protection is included in the consensus, it only mentions “information within 24 hours based on each side’s regulations” and “family members in the Mainland area” or “businesses in the Mainland area.”
However, “based on each side’s regulations” means that Taiwan must accept China’s “legal realities” and let China decide whether or not to inform “family members in the Mainland area” within 24 hours. It goes without saying that even if no notification is issued “in accordance with the law,” there will be no consequences.
Last year, a Taiwanese businessman surnamed Yen (顏) was detained in China. His family, who lived in Xiamen, in China’s Fujian Province, received no information about his disappearance for three months and the government was at a complete loss as to what to do. This kind of situation, where everything depends on the “consensus” that China decided on, is simply a system of favors and mercy and it cannot be called a human rights protection mechanism.
The negotiation of the cross-strait service trade agreement tells us that in terms of cross-strait exchanges, the business interests of some people are not the same thing as economic interests, and economic interests are not the same as the public’s interests or national interests.
In the end, democracy and human rights are the core interests that matter most to the public. Ko’s detention has alerted everyone to the fact that it is not only Taiwanese businesspeople who can have their freedom restricted and be detained, so there is a real need for a mechanism to protect personal freedom.
This is something that any ROC citizen in China needs and it is why the most significant result of Ko’s detention should be a demand by Taiwanese that the government establish a general mechanism for guaranteeing personal freedom, prioritizing this mechanism on the cross-strait agenda.
Hsu Wei-chun is convener of Taiwan Democracy Watch and assistant professor of law in the department of law and economics at Chung Yuan Christian University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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